What Everyone Should Know About Polio Vaccine Side Effects

Poliomyelitis, or polio, is a vaccine-preventable disease caused by the poliovirus. In centuries past, this disease was an epidemic that caused debilitating health conditions like paralysis. The invention of a vaccine has protected millions of people from this life-threatening disease. Despite that, it can cause adverse reactions, and polio vaccine side effects range from minor to severe. At Sadaka Law, we have over 15 years of legal experience with vaccine injuries. In this post, you’ll learn important information about the polio vaccine and its potential side effects that everyone should know before receiving this vaccination from a health care provider.

What Are the Common Side Effects of the Polio Vaccine?

kid having insomnia after vaccination

In the United States, the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) is the only option for immunization under the trade name IPOL. In most cases, the polio vaccination is safe and effective. It’s the only way to prevent polio, which can be fatal. When adverse reactions do occur after a vaccine administration, they’re usually mild. The five most common side effects of the polio vaccine are:

  • Injection site pain – Muscle pain, aches, and soreness
  • Low-grade fever – Fever at or below 101°F
  • Irritability – Mood swings and quick temper
  • Insomnia – Tossing and turning, trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Dietary changes – Loss of normal appetite

What Are the Common Injection Site Reactions?

Think about the last time you got a shot at the doctor’s office. It probably hurt, and your arm was sore for a few days afterward. The same symptoms may occur after receiving the polio vaccine via injection. As with any shot, you’ll probably feel symptoms like:

  • Redness and swelling
  • Muscle aches and pains (especially during movement or stretching)
  • Soreness in the arm
  • Tenderness or bruising

You may also feel a small lump around the injection site. Expect skin tenderness, swelling, light bruising, or mild pain to the touch.

How Can the Common Side Effects Be Managed?

The most common side effects of IPV are relatively easy to manage. For example, take aspirin or ibuprofen to help with aches or beat a low-grade fever.

If the injection site is itching, an antihistamine like Benadryl is appropriate. To combat bruising or swelling, gently applying a cold compress to the site could provide some relief. Immediately after administration, the injection site may exhibit slight bleeding. Applying slight pressure with a gauze bandage or adhesive compress is best if this occurs.

Rare Side Effects of the Polio Vaccine

kid got high fever after getting polio vaccine

The vaccine for polio usually only results in mild side effects, like a slight fever, headache, and pain or swelling around the injection site. Unfortunately, some rarer side effects are more severe, such as:

  • Allergic reaction – Itching or hives, skin rash, swelling of the lips, tongue, or face
  • High fever – Any fever over 102°F
  • Eye symptoms – Sudden loss of vision, eye pain or swelling, seeing light halos
  • VAPP – Vaccine-associated paralytic polio can occur after taking an OPV (oral polio vaccine).
  • VDPV – Vaccine-derived poliovirus also affects some people after taking the oral polio vaccine.

Remaining vigilant after receiving the polio vaccine is essential. Call your health care provider immediately if you experience any of the symptoms we just listed. In addition, watch out for these serious side effects that could indicate a major problem:

  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Seizures
  • Fainting
  • Fast, irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe headache
  • Trouble walking
  • Loss of coordination

What Are Potential Allergic Reactions to the Polio Vaccine?

A serious allergic reaction to a polio immunization is rare but possible. According to the CDC, approximately one in one million doses of the polio vaccine results in allergic reactions. Potential symptoms of an allergic reaction to the polio vaccine include:

  • Paleness
  • Hives
  • Itching
  • Trouble breathing
  • Flushed skin
  • Wheezing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Swelling of face, tongue, or lips
  • Weak or rapid pulse
  • Blue-colored skin
  • Vomiting
  • Fainting
  • Dizziness

If you experience any of those symptoms, please seek immediate treatment from a medical professional.

Can the Polio Vaccine Cause Paralysis?

paralyzed person in wheelchair

An adverse event known as vaccine-associated paralytic poliomyelitis (VAPP) can occur if someone receives the OPV. The OPV contains a live (but weakened) version of the poliovirus, which can cause VAPP. However, in the year 2000, the United States switched to the IPV. Thankfully, there’s no risk of contracting VAPP from an IPV. The U.S. no longer uses the OPV.

What Steps Can Be Taken To Alleviate the Rare Side Effects of Polio?

Is there anything you can do to relieve the rare side effects of the polio vaccine? The answer depends on the symptom. Please note: You should immediately seek medical attention if you experience any serious or adverse reaction from the polio vaccine, like the ones we listed above. Your healthcare provider will likely prescribe symptom-specific treatment, such as if you have a fever and vomiting.

Are There Any Contraindications or Precautions for Receiving the Polio Vaccine?

Contraindications refer to certain risk factors that would prevent someone from receiving a vaccine — in this case, an IPV. Precautions refer to certain health conditions that may increase the risk of experiencing an adverse reaction from a vaccine.


Anyone with hypersensitivity to a previous polio vaccine dose or an allergic reaction to certain medications should not receive an IPV, including the following:

  • Neomycin
  • Streptomycin
  • Polymyxin B


Despite the lack of evidence that the IPV may cause an adverse reaction during pregnancy, only people at high risk of infection should receive it. The OPV (which can cause VAPP) is never appropriate for pregnant women.

How Do Polio Vaccines Compare to Other Childhood Vaccines in Terms of Side Effects?

doctor giving polio vaccine to a children

Every vaccine can cause side effects, and most of the milder symptoms are quite similar. These include:

  • Injection site pain
  • Low-grade fever
  • Muscle pain
  • Body aches
  • Shoulder pain

Keep in mind that other vaccines can also cause severe adverse reactions, such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, including the influenza vaccine. If you’ve experienced serious side effects from any vaccine, you should report it to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). Then, seek professional legal advice from a vaccine injury lawyer.

Are There Any Long-term Complications Associated With the Polio Vaccine?

Any vaccine can cause long-term complications. While conditions like shoulder injury related to vaccine administration (SIRVA) could occur from the polio vaccine, you might experience this injury with any vaccine, including MMR, Hib, flu, etc. The only long-term complication specific to the polio vaccine is VAPP (paralysis), which only happens with exposure to the OPV’s live (attenuated) version. The U.S. only uses the IPV, which carries no risk of VAPP.

Call Sadaka Law Now To Schedule a Consultation for Your Vaccine-related Injury

Any medical procedure, including vaccines, can cause unwanted side effects or health conditions. Most polio vaccine side effects are mild and temporary, such as pain, swelling, and redness at the injection site or a low-grade fever. That’s not always the case. Some people suffer from serious adverse reactions to immunizations like the polio vaccine, Tdap, MMR, etc. Don’t wait to seek legal help if you’ve suffered a vaccine-related injury. Sadaka Law has over 15 years of experience with vaccine injuries and handles cases nationwide. Call Sadaka Law now at 800-810-3457 to schedule your consultation with our legal team.

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